The TBA Celebrates Pro Bono IOLTA Turns 25 in Tennessee

Twenty-five years ago, Emmett Marston of Memphis was the Tennessee Bar Association president " the same year the Tennessee Supreme Court entered the order sustaining the petition of the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) and the Tennessee Bar Foundation (TBF) "for this Court to authorize the establishment and implementation of a program for the utilization for legal charitable purposes within the State of Tennessee of interest derived from lawyers' trust accounts." This established the Interest On Lawyers' Trust Accounts program, what we now refer to as IOLTA. The order was signed on Oct. 30, 1984, and in addition to the five justices of the Supreme Court " Chief Justice Robert E. Cooper, Justices William H. D. Fones, Ray L. Brock Jr., William J. Harbison and Frank F. Drowota " three lawyers also signed the order as approved for entry " Joel Porter for the TBA, Wilson Sims for the TBF and John Turnbull for the Tennessee Trial Lawyers Association.

Over the next 25 years, the voluntary IOLTA program, which was converted to an "opt-out" program in 1990, benefited many Tennesseans by providing necessary support for pro bono " and many other causes " in our state. The IOLTA program has served as a critical funding mechanism to directly and positively impact the lives of Tennesseans in need of legal services through the TBF grants made annually from the IOLTA funds.

According to the most recent information from the TBF, the IOLTA program has granted more than $15,800,000 to providers of these services in the state. The IOLTA grants are made annually to organizations in Tennessee that provide direct legal services to the indigent, to organizations that seek to improve the administration of justice and to students, in the form of scholarships, at the state-supported law schools.[See sidebar.]

Twenty-five years later, our Supreme Court entered another IOLTA order granting another petition of the TBA and the TBF, this time joined by the Tennessee Association for Justice and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, requiring all attorneys who hold eligible client funds to participate in the TBF's IOLTA program. Chief Justice Janice M. Holder signed the order on July 8, 2009. Implementation of the order, which includes changes to Rule 8, RPC 1.15 and Rule 43, is effective on Jan. 1, 2010. Since the order was entered, the TBA and the TBF have held seminars and meetings to provide educational information to attorneys new to IOLTA and for any attorneys who need information on IOLTA in Tennessee. The mandatory IOLTA program will further promote much-needed pro bono service in Tennessee.

In the month of October, the TBA is celebrating pro bono and the 25th anniversary of IOLTA in Tennessee by sponsoring statewide events to thank lawyers for their increased efforts to make access to justice a high priority in Tennessee. We will particularly thank those lawyers who labor day-in and day-out to serve the public in their chosen careers with Legal Services and Legal Aid offices, the nonprofit community and direct delivery of legal services to those who cannot pay. We will also thank the TBF for its leadership in implementing and administering the IOLTA program and the court for support of the IOLTA program and for making Access to Justice the number one priority in Tennessee. Most importantly, we will continue to shine a bright light on the need for pro bono publico service as we also hold legal clinics, Wills for Heroes events, Lawyer-for-a-Day events, work pending cases for Legal Aid offices whose numbers continue to creep upward, and participate in other creative solutions across our state to help meet this need.

We cannot wait another 25 years to ensure that basic legal services are available and provided to all of those who need us now. We will celebrate, but we will also be inspired to improve as we move forward facing and meeting this challenge.

Find out more about "Celebrate Pro Bono Month" at http://www.tba.org/CPB_2009/.